June issue 2009
Old Concepts in New Models
Still mining the vast trajectory of ‘alternative art,’ graphic artist Babar Moghal’s new body of work, shown at VM Gallery recently, speaks more of an enduring attraction to the genre rather than an evolution of a specific thought process. His aesthetic expression has always veered towards sub-cultural themes and the current works are also fragments of an imaginary world as seen by ‘new age’ artists.
The present collection featuring two segments is divided into graphite on paper and gouache/watercolour works. The graphite pieces, an incongruous mix of myth and dream, come across as allegorical landscapes that typically feature pensive figures, night skies, morning mists, barren trees and medieval ruins. Here Moghal’s primary interest as an artist is on the contemplation of nature, and it is the intrusion of supernatural phenomena into an otherwise realist narrative that brings otherworldliness to his compositions. Other than random images of a windmill, a postbox and an organic innovation, the chromatic works feature figurative paintings of the female form.
His thinking and choice of subjects are random and disparate, defying coherent explanation, but the concentration on the feminine body can be interpreted as a new direction/interest that is engaging the artist’s attention. Seated and reclining figures, their faces embellished with a tracery of twirling patterns like tendrils on a leafy stem, have a vague air of mystery about them. A mask-like face dissolving into the cavernous confines of haunted ruins, vaporous clouds, a mesh of cobwebs, silhouettes of bare trees and fallen moons speak of the emotional complexities peculiar to Dark Art. Indeed a pervasive air of gloom, reflection and edginess are a distinctive part of Babar Moghal’s repertoire.
The wide umbrella of ‘alternative art’ encompasses the new age fantasy art and the psychedelic hippie culture of the ’60s and ’70s. Babar Moghal not only accesses his visual vocabulary from these sub-categories but also aligns his painterly practice with them. Visionary artists are surprisingly united in their tastes, temperament and preferences. Though their methods may differ — some preferring the classical techniques of oil and varnish, others the airbrush, as Moghul also does, and still others the new graphic capacities of computers — all agree that as precise a rendering as possible is absolutely necessary for vision-inducing works. Fine lines, gradual transitions, infinite details — there is no limit to the pains endured nor the patience required to successfully rendering a vision into image form.
Technique and treatment is a very noticeable feature in Babur Moghul’s art as well. His artworks are small in scale, almost like the modern miniature, and he draws and paints with a deft, delicate and relatively precise hand, building his drawings and painterly forms with transparent washes, thin fragile strokes and fine linear modulations. The only jarring feature in this entire exercise is a lack of originality. Instead of constructing his own vocabulary or concepts, he is sourcing or modifying existent imagery into new models. As partial reproductions, revisions or rip-offs, the works do not have the strength or impact of strong original compositions executed with a deeper self-involvement. He has the manual skills and should endeavour to come up with authentic expression rather than opt for remixes.